Q&A With Laura Rutledge: Balancing Her Roles, Covering 2021 NFL Draft, Kyle Trask’s Future, Early CFB Predictions

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Laura Rutledge’s rise to stardom at ESPN has been extremely impressive. She began her time with the company as a sideline reporter for college football before working her way up to becoming the host of the new-look NFL Live. 

Rutledge was recently in Cleveland with the rest of the NFL Live crew to cover the 2021 NFL DraftIt was a hectic week for the entire staff in large part because ESPN insider Adam Schefter shared the scoop of the year while on the show.

There’s no doubt that a lot of Rutledge’s day is consumed by her work at ESPN, but she does an excellent job of balancing it with her life at home. Those who follow her on social media know that she’s always doing something fun with Reese, her 19-month-old daughter.

We sat down with Laura Rutledge this week to discuss her career at ESPN, how she balances that with her life at home, her partnership with Academy Sports + Outdoors, and much more.

The Spun: What are the biggest differences between covering college football and NFL?

Laura Rutledge: There are a lot of differences. I think when it comes to college football, every year there’s a new crop of talent in a lot of ways that you’re learning and getting to know. There’s so much unexpected that happens, and that’s the beauty of college football. I realize there are people who would say ‘Well, the College Football Playoff features a lot of the same teams,” and that’s true. However, there are also surprises that happens. Last year was wild for a variety of reasons and the 2019 season had LSU come out of nowhere to have one of the greatest seasons we’ve ever seen. That’s part of it that makes it different from the NFL.

When it comes to the NFL, some of the storylines are expected or at least longer lasting. The other thing about college football is that you’re seeing a lot of men who won’t go on to play professionally, but they’re giving themselves great opportunities for whatever their career is going to be by playing a game they love. That’s something that’s always in the back of my mind when I’m covering college football. On the NFL side, it’s a year-round thing. There’s always something going on and now we have all this news about Aaron Rodgers and quarterbacks making things happen for themselves. From the standpoint of having a lot to talk about all the time, the NFL is a bit different there in the way we cover it.

The Spun: What was it like covering the NFL Draft in person and seeing fans back at an event of that magnitude?

LR: It was incredible to have fans back in the mix. I’ll point to a specific moment because we started on Wednesday in Cleveland and we looked behind us and saw there were people there making noise and cheering. It was a little bit emotional for us to feel that again. Fans are the fabric of our sport and the reason we’re able to do what we do. ESPN’s mission is to serve sports fans anytime anywhere. To have the fans part of the mix again was special. What a blast it was to do NFL Live at the NFL Draft with some of my favorite people in the world.

The Spun: You were all on set when Adam Schefter broke the news about Aaron Rodgers being frustrated in Green Bay. What was that like?

LR: The Adam Schefter scoop of the Aaron Rodgers story was absolutely wild. The behind the scenes of that could be a 30 for 30. We really didn’t know what was happening, and the first tipoff I got was maybe about five minutes before the show. I was getting ready for the show and we were having some communication issues. My producer was trying to tell me something in my earpiece but couldn’t get through to me, so someone told me you need to pick up your phone right now. I answered and they said ‘Hey, Adam’s got something. We don’t know what it is, but be ready because our whole show is about to blow up.’ For people who may not understand how live television works, it’s not like we have some script in front of us. We had a whole show planned for almost a month because we had so much time to plan for it, but that ended up going out the window because of the exciting news from Adam. After the first block of the show, he put up his hand and I thought ‘Well, this might be it.’ He was like ‘I got huge news after the break,’ which, of course, is the ultimate tease.

The Spun: With Mother’s Day around the corner, how do you balance being a mom with all of the other things you have going on?

LR: I would say that it’s a day-to-day thing. I’m certainly one who loves to get advice from other moms and other women who are managing full-time careers and taking care of their kids at the same time. Also, I love to get advice from full-time moms because I admire them. Being a mom takes a lot out of you, and yet it is the most-rewarding thing. The key is to be right where my feet are at any given moment. If I’m at home with my daughter Reese, who is 19 months now, then I’m all in with her. We’re reading books, we’re cooking, we’re playing music and we’re going outside – which being outside is important for us. When I’m at work, I’m trying to stay as focused on that and give my crew as much as I can. There are definitely days where I’m thinking ‘This is not working out for me today and I’m not doing a great job.’ I think that’s normal and natural. As women, we should share more of those moments than even the positives. Sometimes it helps to know that other people aren’t always happening the best days, and I think social media can be a little misleading there. It’s a constant juggling act and one that I’d never wish for anything more. This is beyond my wildest dreams. I had no idea what to expect, but this is truly the greatest joy of my life.

The Spun: We’ve seen Reese make Super Bowl picks and we’ve seen her dressed as a caddy. Does she have a favorite sport yet?

LR: She really does like football, which is interesting because my husband is a professional baseball player. We weren’t sure if she’d gravitate towards that. But it seems like football is her jam. First of all, her record for picking games is unbelievable. I think she ended up being 11-2 overall and she picked the Buccaneers to beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Everyone on NFL Live was embarrassed because we all picked the Chiefs. People were like ‘You should’ve taken Reese to Vegas because she knows what’s going on.’ I’ll be interested to see how much she changes this coming football season. I don’t want to force anything on her, I want her to make her own decisions on what she likes. The main debate in our house involves college sports. I went to Florida and my husband went to Alabama, so he’s convinced she has to be an Alabama fan. I keep sneaking some Gators things her way though [laughing].

The Spun: You’ve partnered with Academy Sports + Outdoors for a few years now. How do you feel the brand aligns with you and your passions?

LR: It’s such a special partnership for me because Academy Sports + Outdoors was a place we shopped at as a family before this even happened. To be able to develop this relationship with them and know how they support women is really neat. I mentioned how much I already love being outdoors, so I feel like Academy is a way I can continue to do the things I love to do. I can get supplies for outside, like an inflatable pool for Reese, or get the new line called FREELY, which is incredible activewear and loungewear for women – I live in that stuff. To be able to partner with a company that understand what actual women and actual moms need is amazing. We’re still going through tough times as a country, but I think we’re seeing a bit of a bright window coming our way. I feel like people have decided – especially women- that I’m going to do what makes me happy. If that’s going outside and playing with my kids, now is the time to do that. I think Academy sets up women to be able to do that and find things they’re going to love that’ll make their lives better.

The Spun: What is Dan Orlovsky’s worst food take?

LR: Oh my goodness. I think it may have happened this week. He was working from home yesterday, meanwhile we were scrolling through Twitter. I saw that he posted guacamole, and Dan is so bland with his football it’s just ridiculous. The rest of us love flavorful food, so we had to ask him what his guacamole recipe was. He basically said it was avocado and a little bit of lime, which I think lime is the key, but no cilantro, no jalapeño, or onions. So basically, his guacamole was just an avocado. I thought it was a terrible food take because guacamole needs to be done right, but Dan just doesn’t get it. Here’s another thing that drives me up the wall with him: his coffee is so light. He puts so much cream in his coffee that it’s not even coffee. I like just a little bit of cream, but his coffee is basically just cream. That would be my secondary gripe with his food takes. He’s a wonderful person and co-worker, but he has the worst takes when it comes to food.

The Spun: You’ve covered the Florida Gators extensively during your career. What do you expect from Kyle Trask at the next level?

LR: If you sit there and talk to NFL teams and scouts, they’d point to Kyle Trask’s arm strength as why he was going to be a second-tier quarterback in this year’s draft. I think it’s overlooked how mobile he is inside the pocket. People talk about him being a statue in the pocket, but that’s just not accurate at all. The fact that he does have pinpoint accuracy and is an exceptional football mind, I am impressed with him. I think he’ll have a nice opportunity to have success at the next level. So much has to go right because the NFL is so competitive. To learn behind Brady, and I’m not saying that because Brady is going to mentor him – I don’t think he’s that guy, and I’m not saying that as some slight to Brady – but to watch him and see what he identifies when looking at a defense is key. To take it another step further, Trask will be in a system with great offensive weapons. I don’t expect them to keep this Super Bowl roster forever, but they should still have great weapons down the road. I think that sets up Trask to succeed.

The Spun: Over the past two seasons we’ve seen Joe Burrow and Mac Jones come out of nowhere to become first-round picks. Do you have a quarterback in mind for the 2021 season?

LR: There’s going to be someone who surprises us. I was telling Mel Kiper the other day that these guys keep coming out of nowhere, which is kind of cool. This is not someone who is going to come out of nowhere but I’m not sure if people know him as much as they should. I’m talking about Kedon Slovis from USC. I think he’s going to have a chance to be up at the top of the draft next year in a class that probably won’t have as much talent as this past class did. I think Slovis is going to be the leader of the pack and has a really good opportunity in the Pac-12 to solidify what he’s all about. You’re going to see a guy who has a great skillset and should be in a position to get drafted very early next year.

The Spun: What do you think has been the main reason Florida and Georgia have been unable to dethrone Alabama?

LR: The one reason is Nick Saban [laughing]. He keeps figuring this out no matter what. This past season was so unusual due to the pandemic, even Coach Saban tested positive at one point. It was just beyond difficult. I don’t think people fully understand what it was like for these coaches and players. I think Saban is the X-factor. I know that seems obvious, but this really all started with Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss. When they beat Alabama, it was because of a great offensive scheme. They aired out the ball and took more risks than any other SEC team on offense. To Saban’s credit, he hired Lane Kiffin and started to do some creative things on that side of the ball. I really think that’s what got Alabama a step ahead. Dan Mullen has those abilities on offense for Florida, meanwhile Georgia is a bit behind offensively. So I think this partially comes down to Saban and the offensive schemes. We’re going to see defenses adjust, but it’s so hard to adjust to these offenses with all these skill players. I think Florida and Georgia will be able to contend, but I’m just not sure if they’ll be able to take down Alabama. Bryce Young, the quarterback for Alabama, was a guy who some thought would beat out Mac Jones last season. Mac Jones ends up being a first-round pick and a prospect who was in consideration to be the third overall pick. So, we got to realize how good Bryce Young is too.

The Spun: Last question, what’s your favorite part about NFL Live?

LR: This may sound corny, but this is the truth: it’s the greatest fun to show up to what is supposed to be work and talk football with some of my best friends in the world. That’s what those guys and gals are for me. NFL Live has been such a mainstay on ESPN for so many years, so to be part of a brand that has been so iconic is really cool. We thought, initially, that’d we all be in studio together. Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented that. Trying to make this work with us rarely being together and working through the awkwardness that happens when you’re not all in the same place isn’t easy, but the crew is so talented. I don’t think people even totally understand how good they are. Marcus Spears is sitting in a small studio in his house looking into something that’s the size of a phone, yet he has such energy and presence. Dan [Orlovsky] is doing these tapes from a distance on a technical delay, so we’re rolling the tape while he knows he needs to be a couple of seconds behind to be caught up with the tape. Mina is constantly analyzing tape and talking about numbers that are on the screen that she might not even be able to see so she remembers them off the top of her head – it’s unbelievable. We have an incredible production crew that has put us in a position to do this. It all goes back to enjoying the people you’re with and being thankful for that. It is never lost on us that we’ve lucked into doing this. During the draft, we all looked at each other and said ‘Let’s hold onto this as long as we possibly can because it really is special and fun.’

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Sports fans can catch Laura Rutledge on NFL Live every Monday through Friday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN.

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.

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